The Global Food Crisis as an International Security Threat in Non-Traditional Security Issues

The biggest mistake in the traditional security concept is too dominated by militaristic approaches.

Since World War I, II, and the Cold War, International Security has tended to be seen only from state-centered and military-oriented approaches known as traditional security. In addition, in its development, international security raises a new approach that is a criticism of traditional security, namely non-traditional security. This security concept refers to threats to the stability and welfare of the state and even the international community that come from non-military aspects. Non-traditional threats are often transnational in nature and have a very significant impact. Non-traditional threats include environmental security, economic security, food security, health security, cyber security, human security, energy security, migration and refugee issues, terrorism and transnational crime, water security, and nuclear proliferation (Caballero-Anthony, 2016).

            The biggest mistake in the traditional security concept is too dominated by militaristic approaches. As a result, threats to human security that are non-military in nature do not get enough attention to be used as a measure of a security threat. In fact, threats from non-military sources are a real threat to human security. Therefore, non-traditional security criticism of traditional security is a reasonable thing, and it is important to respond as we respond to traditional threats. Especially now that the world situation is increasingly complex with various inevitable changes. Fading borders make interactions between countries more massive than ever before. As a result, the impact of non-traditional threats is very easy to spread from one country to another, and the victims are not much less than traditional threats.

            Indeed, the number of victims caused by military threats is not small. But we should not close our eyes and deny that the victims caused by non-military threats are not much less than traditional threats. Problems such as climate change, natural disasters, resource scarcity, infectious diseases, irregular migration, food scarcity, human smuggling, drug trafficking, and transnational crime are threats that can cause the same victims as military threats (Ewing, J. 2016). Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the problem of climate change has resulted in 250,000 deaths every year (Lindmeier et al. 2016).  In the same period as World War I and World War II, natural disasters caused approximately 12.700 million deaths, while from 2020 until 2023 there were about 150,000 deaths (Our World in Data, 2023). The WHO states that there are around 12.6 million deaths each year due to an unhealthy environment (Lindmeier et al. 2016). We can imagine that this is only one of many non-traditional threats.

Global Food Crisis and Stability of International Security

               One of the non-traditional threats nowadays is the global food crisis. This refers to the situation where people in many countries have difficulty accessing food due to reduced food supplies or food scarcity. In short, the global food crisis means that the world’s food supply is insufficient to meet the needs of the global population. The situation is also characterized by increasing food prices, especially for staple foods. This can lead to a sharp increase in hunger and malnutrition at the local, national, or global level, threatening security stability. The causes can vary, ranging from too much demand, poor governance, and massive climate change to prolonged conflicts in various regions (Timmer, 2010). However, climate change is the dominant factor causing the global food crisis in the current era.

               The real and enormous impact of the global food crisis on human security has made food security one of the goals to be achieved by the United Nations through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. But if we look at the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) report through the Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) in 2023, the vision to end the issue of global hunger seems to be difficult to achieve. This is because acute food insecurity has increased over the past few years. Just In 2022, by the number of countries or regions covered by GRFC, there were around 258 million people in 58 countries experiencing acute food insecurity. This figure increased from the previous year which was still around 53 countries with 193 million people (Carfagna et al. 2023). Even the latest data in 2023 released by the World Food Programme states that 345 million people are facing acute levels of food insecurity spread across 79 countries (World Food Programme, 2023).

Number of people in GRFC countries/regions facing acute food insecurity, 2016-2022

Source: Food Security Information Network (FSIN)

Not only is the case of food insecurity acute but also the global food crisis is increasing hunger in various regions. Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that in 2022 there will be around 702 to 828 million people in several regions facing hunger. Of this figure, around 9.1% (424.5 million people) are residents in Asia, 20.2% (278 million people) are residents in Africa, 8.6% (56.5 million) in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6.4 million people are residents in North America and Europe, and 5.8% (2.5 million people) in the Asia Pacific region (Kusnandar, 2022).

            The global food crisis then contributes a lot to the international security dynamics as evidenced by the increasing human mortality rate. A shocking figure was shown by the World Food Program in 2021 regarding the number of deaths that reached nearly 9 million people each year due to hunger. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of people who died from hunger reached 16 million (World Food Programme, 2021). Meanwhile, the latest data shows that as of November 30, 2023, cases of death due to hunger have reached more than 8 million worldwide, even in every 4 seconds there is one person who dies because of hunger. In addition, the food crisis that triggers malnutrition has also caused around 3.1 million children around the world to die every year. In total from 1990 to 2018, 189 million children have died from malnutrition (The World Counts, 2023).

Global Hunger Index

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The impact of the global food crisis on security stability can also be identified from the increase in social instability in the form of violent conflicts due to food scarcity (Hendrix, 2011). In some countries or regions, there are several violent conflicts have erupted due to competition over food supplies. For example, in Cameroon, a food crisis characterized by rising food prices has triggered 17 incidents of riots that killed 40 people (Guardian, 2016). Research conducted by Stanford University states that more than 1 million Africans have died as a result of conflicts influenced by the food crisis. A one-standard-deviation increase in food prices led to a 9% increase in conflict escalation in areas without food production in Africa (Burke and F. McGuirk, 2017).

            In addition, the global food crisis has also caused a significant increase in population migration. The hunger that threatens people’s lives forces them to leave their homes and move to another region in that country or move to other countries. Research shows that 90% of the countries with the largest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) are countries facing food crises. The Migration Data Portal shows that by the end of 2022, there will be approximately 53 million internally displaced people in 25 countries where they have been identified as facing food crises at home. There are about 20 million refugees and asylum seekers hosted in 55 countries where they also identified as experiencing a food crisis (Global Migration Data Portal, 2023). This phenomenon has a significant effect on international security stability. In many cases, thousands of migrants have died while on their way to their destination, not to mention the potential for conflict with local communities in the destination country or region is also a threat to security.

            In Southeast Asia, Indonesia is currently facing the threat of a crucial food crisis. Not only the climate change causing this problem, but this situation is triggered by non-optimal agricultural production. In addition, the threat of food scarcity has made some countries stop their exports to secure their food reserves. This situation has increased food prices in Indonesia (Nugroho, 2023). As a result, many Indonesians face difficulties in accessing food. Data from the Global Hunger Index 2023 states that out of 125 countries, Indonesia is ranked 77th in hunger levels (Global Hunger Index, 2023). Meanwhile, in the Southeast Asia Region, Indonesia ranks third as the country with the highest level of hunger (Ula, 2021). Another problem is shown through data from the Center for Indonesian Policy Studies (CIPS) which states that there are around 21 million Indonesians who are malnourished, of which 21.6 percent are stunted children  (CNN Indonesia, 2023).

Global Hunger Index, Southeast Asia (2021)

Source: Databoks

The Global food crisis ultimately affects the stability of security in Indonesia. One of them can be identified from the high infant mortality rate. In 2020, the infant mortality rate reached 28,158 influenced by poor nutrition (Soesatyo, 2022). In addition, in some eastern regions of Indonesia, the food crisis is a real threat to human security. In Papua for example, hunger is a serious problem that occurs today. Drought due to climate change has led to crop failure in some areas of Papua, and people have no food supply. Recently, in October 2023, in the Yahukimo region of Papua Pegunungan province, the food crisis resulted in 23 people dying because of hunger. In the previous month, about 6 people who die in the same case in the Central Papua province (BBC News, 2023). In 2023, 29 Papuans died from hunger. Meanwhile, in total from 2005 to 2023, at least 194 Papuans have die because of hunger (Santika, 2023).

            The threat of security stability due to the food crisis also occurred in several regions in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). A survey by the Child Protection Agency (LPA) NTT states that every year there are around 62 children who die due to nutritional crises. In addition, the geographical condition of NTT, where most of the area is arid so that it cannot be cultivated into productive land, coupled with increasingly massive climate change with various kinds of natural disasters, make the region overshadowed by crop failure and food crises. As a result, the situation leaves the people of NTT with no other choice, and are forced to migrate to other regions, and even seek livelihoods in other countries. In 2022, there were around 1,303 NTT residents who migrated out of NTT. This figure increased from the previous year, which reached 1,028 people. In total, during the 2020-2023 period, there were around 2,599 NTT people who migrated to other regions. Ironically, from 2020 to 2022, there were around 1900 bodies of migrant workers repatriated to Indonesia, and the majority of them came from NTT (Narasi, 2023).

            Several facts about threats to human security from non-military aspects, such as the global food crisis described above, show that the victims caused by non-traditional threats are no less than military threats. However, so far, the attention of the world tends to have a greater portion of military threats, sometimes even ignoring the existence of other threats that have the same effects as military threats. We can see the attitude of people around the world when a war involving military force occurs. The international community tends to respond very firmly and seriously through various actions to show concern for the victims of military threats. However, is this attitude also carried out in responding to the impact of non-military threats such as the global food crisis in various countries? I think the international community tends to respond not as effectively as when responding to the impact of military threats.

            In addition, the existing facts further strengthen my argument that non-traditional threats are very relevant in describing the current international security situation. The victims caused by non-traditional threats, in this case, the world food crisis, are not much less than military threats, making this issue very important to get the same portion of attention as conventional security issues. If so far the orientation of approaches in looking at international security has always been militaristic, then the fact of the large number of casualties produced by the world food crisis should be able to change these approaches towards a more contemporary approach.

            In conclusion, the global food crisis is a significant non-traditional security threat in the context of international security. The global food crisis has real and substantial impacts on human security, including increased mortality, decreased social stability, and massive population migration. The casualties caused by non-traditional threats, such as food crises, are no less massive than those caused by military threats. Thus, non-traditional threats such as food crises are actually as deadly as traditional threats. Therefore, there is a need to shift the international security approach to effectively address non-military threats and give equal attention to conventional and non-traditional security issues.

Krisman Heriamsal
Krisman Heriamsal
Krisman Heriamsal, Postgraduate Student in the Master of International Relations program, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta. The fields of study that I am currently studying are International Security, Diplomacy, Peace, and Foreign Policy.